Charlie Whelan says . . .

Don't believe it - "Ken Clarke will win the Tory leadership"

Nearly every lobby correspondent said that Ken Clarke had a greater chance of winning the Tory leadership election because of the high turnout. Given that this was a collective load of old tosh, I won't name names. I know it is easy to be wise after the event, but the consensus on this story was a very clear illustration of the herd instincts of Westminster hacks.

They decided among themselves that the Tory activists were all Eurosceptic nutters who would vote for their fellow Eurosceptic nutter Iain Duncan Smith. According to this theory, the rank-and-file Tories were all normal human beings who wanted to back the candidate with more chance of winning a general election (Clarke). This view became widely accepted, even though there was no evidence to support it. The Sunday Telegraph poll of party members, which proved accurate, was dismissed by the Clarke-supporting Guardian as a fraud.

A Times hack did have the good grace to confess to me, in private after a few beers, that he had got it wrong. "The activists, such as councillors, voted for Clarke because they wanted power. The punters don't give a stuff about power, only the euro, so they voted for Smith." Tory strategists are undecided as to whether the virtual news blackout they experienced as a result of the tragic events in America was a good thing or a bad thing. They want publicity for their new man but, given that most of it would have been unfavourable, the lack of it was probably a good thing. In general, newspaper coverage of events in the US has been superb, and particular praise goes to the Sun for its leader "Islam is not evil religion". However, who believed the same paper's story that the hijackers learnt how to fly by playing a computer game?

This article first appeared in the 24 September 2001 issue of the New Statesman, The war that Bush cannot win